Oyster #98: Fatima Al Qadiri
"I have an allergy to most contemporary pop music."
Fatima Al Qadiri is a Dakar-born, Kuwait-raised and New York–based musician, composer and visual artist. She’s fast gaining a cult following for incorporating genres as diverse as dubstep, electro-tropicalia, Islamic a cappella and Russian techno into her music — although I wanted to find out if Madonna, Mariah and Miley fit into the mix.
I’m a total loner. Sometimes there’s nothing more that I want from life than to sit in bed with new episodes of 30 Rock and Archer, chain-smoking and stuffing my face with Peanut M&M’s and Doritos with guacamole. Being forced to live the way I do — especially when you’re the kind of person who actually enjoys partying — would really suck, though.
Growing up in volatile Kuwait, Al Qadiri was made to endure intense isolation as a young girl, as being outdoors was unsafe (“according to my parents and society at large”). The experience, she tells me, almost cost her a few marbles. “I got used to staying indoors, but I craved going out,” she explains. “There are no bars and clubs in Kuwait. Alcohol is illegal, so there’s not that kind of scene. There are five countries in the world where that’s the case, and unfortunately mine is one of them! There are private parties that you can go to, but the music that they listen to is horrifying. I can’t live there, you know? I needed to be in New York to be inspired.”
Since moving to New York, Al Qadiri has been busy. She’s exhibited her art everywhere from Dubai to South Korea, performed at the Tate Modern and MoMA PS1, and released two EPs: WARN-U and Genre-Specific Xperience. The former, released under the moniker Ayshay, was a take on nasheed (Islamic a cappella music), and the latter melded five sub-genres of dance.
“The crux of a lot of my work, both visual and musical, is stylistic interpretation,” she says. “I’m interested in how genres and sub-genres are filtered around the world, and how people reimagine them. I feel like I’m a true global citizen, and growing up in Kuwait made me that way. Kuwait is positioned smack-bang in the middle of everything, which meant that I was watching Japanese cartoons dubbed in Arabic, British cartoons, French cartoons, American cartoons … I can relate to the upbringing of so many people around the world, but few can relate to mine.”
So, how does she go about reinventing musical genres? While the exact process is difficult for her to describe (she jokes that she’ll write an essay in ten years’ time explaining how she does it), she ventures, “I think you have to have quite a mathematical mind to imitate styles of music that don’t come to you naturally, that are outside of your compositional experience. So, rather than imitate — which I’m already incapable of doing because I can’t even count beats — I have a really counterintuitive way of making music. For example, I’m working on a Russian techno track now. My father listened to a lot of Russian classical music, so I can hear the influence of Russian classical music in contemporary Russian techno. I’m basically referencing my childhood and the genre itself, and making my impression of it.”
Al Qadiri’s taste in music is fittingly obscure. She’s constantly seeking out bands from far-flung corners of the globe, and lists Guatemalan rappers, Mexican DJs and Albanian pop stars amongst her newest obsessions. Wait — no Miley? No Mariah? What about Madge?! “I feel like I have an allergy to most contemporary pop music,” she says with a laugh. “I detest retro-throwback music: people who are making music that sounds like it’s from the eighties, and all that lo-fi stuff. I can’t deal with it! Ariel Pink is probably the only one who can get away with it, because, regardless of his technique and the way he records his music, at the end of the day the composition is so compelling. It’s so unexpected.”
“I’m trying to explore unexplored territories by marrying things that haven’t been married before. I hope that I’ll become more refined in my mission as the years go on. I’m desperately trying to make something new — and I know how corny that sounds!”
Words: Zac Bayly
Photography: Cara Stricker